Mehran Mostafavi, political analyst and expert on the effects of nuclear radiation is part of the sixth round of “Zamaneh Debate” on February 15, 2014 in Amsterdam, dedicated to the question of atomic energy in Iran and the people’s right to be informed about it.
The following is an overview of Dr. Mostafavi’s analysis of atomic energy issues in Iran.
The nuclear issue that Iran has grappled with for 12 years, which is now entering a new phase with the Geneva negotiations, is based on four great untruths. These falsehoods are as follows:
• The first falsehood, which has been reiterated for more than 20 years by the Islamic Republic establishment, is that Iran needs nuclear energy. In view of Iran’s extensive resources in oil, gas, solar and wind energy, it should not need any other sources of energy for centuries to come. Iran should invest in electrical utilities, especially through new gas-fired power plants, and it should build facilities for renewable energy. Therefore, there is no scientific or factual basis to say that Iran needs nuclear energy for its power.
• The second deceit is that Iran needs uranium enrichment to exploit nuclear energy. The falsehood of this statement unravels as follows:
- Iran does not have the necessary uranium for enrichment purposes and in order to realize its nuclear plans it will have to import uranium from international markets.
- For countries that have only one single nuclear plant, uranium enrichment is not economically feasible. There must be at least 10 major power plants (with an output of about 100 megawatts) to economically justify this technology.
- Iran’s contract with the Russians, who built the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, provides that Russia will supply the plant with fuel for 10 years. Iran does not have the knowhow to design the fuel rods for the Bushehr plant, and since the contract with the Russians is not public, it is not certain that the Russians will allow Iran to take over the provision of the plant’s fuel on its own. Iran currently has 7 tons of uranium enriched at the 3 percent level but it will not be able to use it in the near future.
So this raises the question: why is enrichment necessary at such heavy costs? Even if Iran is allowed to enrich uranium, if it is indeed not pursuing any military ends, what is it planning to do with the enriched uranium?
Official statements indicate that they are planning to build 10 to 20 power plants in the future or submarines that will require uranium enriched up to 60 to 90 percent. Even if there is any truth in these statements, such plans would take at least 20 years to come to fruition, so why is there a need to enrich uranium at this point?
There is ample evidence to indicate certain military ambitions motivated the regime to develop an interest in nuclear power. IRGC head Mohsen Rezai reports that in 1985, the Guards called for a budget to revisit the nuclear issue, which had been put aside at the beginning of the Revolution. An 11-page report in the Washington Post of March 14, 2011 indicates that in 1983, Iran approached Pakistan in order to purchase an atomic bomb. Further investigation of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani’s Friday Mass Prayer speeches in the 1980s also reveals an interest in increasing Iran’s military capability to match that of Israel.
Even in a recent reaction to the Geneva agreement, MP Mohammad Nabavian claims that Iran “is not after the atomic bomb but it needs to be in order to keep Israel in check.” This statement was quickly omitted after publication.
• The third has to do with the choice of heavy water technology for the Arak Reactor. The Islamic Republic claims that it has chosen this technology because it is cost-effective. The Arak reactor is another contentious point in the Geneva negotiations that has deepened the nuclear crisis. The Islamic Republic maintains that it is building the Arak reactor in order to produce radio isotopes used for industrial and medical purposes. It has used the Tehran reactor for this purpose but the latter is now on the last leg of its life and needs to be replaced.
These are undoubtedly valid points. However, the sudden change in the choice of technology becomes suspect. At first they choose to develop uranium-enrichment technology, which as we explained they did not need, and now they are building a heavy water reactor which does not use that technology. Except for Canada, which uses the heavy water technology solely for the purpose of power generation, other countries such as India, China and Pakistan have used the technology to produce their plutonium bombs.
• The fourth lie is being fabricated beyond Iranian borders and it comes down to the statement that “Iran will soon build an atomic bomb.” This lie of course rests on the former three falsehoods that I have described above. Although there is evidence that Iran had military ambitions in the early days of its nuclear program, since the government of Mr. Khatami came to power, it has become more inclined to follow the Japanese model of attaining the scientific and technological knowhow to build one without actually building it. The West is clearly aware that for 10 years now, the nuclear weapons project has been set aside in Iran, but since the Iranian regime needs the nuclear crisis to advance its agenda, the West also uses the fear of the nuclear bomb to pressure Iran in negotiations.
Iran has now stopped its uranium enrichment and cannot in effect build a bomb using this technology. And building a bomb with the technology being developed with the Arak reactor would be a very distant matter at this point.
Human Rights, National Rights and the Atomic Policy
The Iranian government insists on the motto: “Nuclear energy is our absolute right!” This motto has been picked up by some human rights groups, who concede that nuclear energy is our so-called absolute right but remind us that we have other rights as well. One must raise the question, however, is nuclear energy a right? I purport that access to nuclear energy is not a right; having the right to choose whether to exploit nuclear energy is a right. Such a choice requires the public to be fully informed about the government’s nuclear ambitions and their implications. When the government uses the word “absolute” with regard to this so-called right, it is barring any form of discussion around it.
The government has never allowed the people to be informed of its nuclear policies, and even politicians are forbidden from discussing the issue. Therefore, informing the public about the atomic policies of the regime and the reaction of world powers to these policies is a chief requirement for the promotion of human rights in Iran.
[Translated from the Persian original]